Missional Monday: Vacation Bible School

vbslogo2017My favorite time of the church year is less than a week away: Vacation Bible School. Hard work is on the menu this week as we make final preparations. This week of hard work prepares us for a week of hard work of a different kind. I enjoy everything about this week. I enjoy watching the sanctuary and other rooms being transformed from their traditional look theme-related masterpieces. I enjoy the opportunity to work closely with teachers and other volunteers as they prepare for the arrival of our students. I enjoy having kids running up and down the hallways. I enjoy the noise that children generate when they’re excited and having a good time. I enjoy being there when the first student arrives and watching the last one leave. I enjoy having all age groups (Kindergarten – Adults) on campus at the same time. I enjoy interacting with our students. I enjoy talking with them, laughing with them, and hopefully praying with them.

Our theme this year – Galactic Starveyors; Discovering the God of the Universe – is, in my opinion, one of the best I’ve seen in long time. Focusing on Colossians 1:15-16, our students will look to the heavens and discover the wonder among all wonders – that the God who created everything there is – the knowable and the unknowable, visible and the invisible – desires a personal relationship with them. Their journey starts with a look at how God’s relationship with man had its beginning. They will then discover how that relationship was broken through rebellion and disobedience. Next, they will learn of the promise of restoration through Jesus Christ and how that restoration challenges and equips us to live for Him every day as we look to our future home with Him. The emphasis on a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ is desperately needed today and I am thankful Lifeway chose to highlight it during the Bible study rotation this summer.

Missional Monday: Missional Voices

mmI am thankful for the many voices, resources, institutions, and ministries who are assisting the local church to live out a missional lifestyle. The purpose of Missional Monday is to raise awareness and foster conversations (whether here or elsewhere) around the need for the New Testament churches to be missionaries where they are. I regularly share my own thoughts about this subject, but mine is not the only one. Because we are involved in kingdom work, I want to connect the readers here to others who are speaking on the subject of missional living. I hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live mission lifestyles. Enjoy.

Read:  I recommend Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by Larry E. McCrary. As God calls missionaries to the field, they develop the necessary skill-sets for a cultural translation of the Gospel. Tradecraft pulls back the curtain on tools once accessible only to full-time Christian workers – tools that will enable the local church to be more effective in its ministry to the community.

Follow:  Henry Criss. Henry is the Lead Pastor of Ridgeland Baptist Church in Ridgeland, SC.  His approach to the revitalization work he has been called to is encouraging and insightful. You can follow him here – @HenryCriss.

Get to Know: Pure Water, Pure Love. PWPL is an initiative of the National Women’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The primary goal of PWPL is to provide missionaries with water filters and the people they serve with wells that offer clean water, free of disease and contamination. PWPL provides thousands of water filters to missionary families and helps fund clean water projects. You can read more here.

Missional Monday : Go Fish Clothing and Jewelry Co.

A few weeks ago, Terri and I were shopping along the waterfront area of downtown Beaufort. While walking along Bay Street, we happened across as a little storefront, Go Fish® Clothing and Jewelry. The name captured my attention and we went inside. We noticed there were many kinds of handmade items from artisans all around world, including hand-crafted wooden animals, blown glass figurines, hand-made clothing, and all types of jewelry. Alongside each display was a portrait of the family who had made the product, as well as a description of the country in which the family lives. Go Fish® purchases the items that are sold in stores from the indigenous peoples of developing nations. The prices that are paid for the items are never argued. Merchandise is bought at the family’s asking price. The mission of Go Fish® is to give the indigenous people dignity and respect by highlighting their creativity and skill, while providing a sustainable livelihood for the family. I found it refreshing that amid stores selling everything from swimsuits to real estate, a company living out its missional calling exists. You can read more about Go Fish® and their work here.

Missional Monday : Church Leaders – Are You Serving Your Community While Secretly Desiring Reimbursement?

MMlogoIt is important for church leaders to know why they engage in community ministry. This means churches must understand what drives them outside the church walls and into the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools of the community. When you combine the command to pray for the welfare and peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and the commission to be witnesses for the gospel wherever we are (Acts 1:8), an important truth emerges: the church has a responsibility to those who are not a part of it. With that being said, ministry in our communities is difficult. Ministry in our communities can be messy. Ministry in our communities can be time-consuming. Ministry in our communities has a financial component to it as well. As a result, members of the church wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of this deal?” This question, at the basement level, is one of reimbursement.

There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on their behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning then certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a means to gain materially from the people then certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. How might a church seek reimbursement from the community?

  1. Filling a seat in the sanctuary. Churches may take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us” stance. A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is people filling a seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct measurement. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. This is not easy to accept.

  1. Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free ride”. This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, seeing them as consumers only. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church has to resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we’re reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.

Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred”. If there is no loss incurred then there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.

Missional Monday : Love Gave 2015

mmSeveral months ago I was sitting with Shane Olsen, lead pastor of Decibel Church and Mike Green, lead pastor of the The Link at lunch. I do not remember the purpose of that meeting. Perhaps we were debriefing a past event or planning a future event. I simply can’t remember. I do remember that out conversation turned toward our city. As the discussion went on, one question seemed to emerge: How can our churches work together in order to show God’s love toward our city? We had already been serving our community in our own individual contexts. Collectively we were all part of large community-wide, non-denominational Thanksgiving event that fed hundreds and hundreds of families. Several questions helped to frame the above question.

What more could we do together?

Is once a year enough to make a real and lasting impact?

What resources could we pool and leverage to make a difference?

What is the best option for long-term and lasting impact?

It was out of this discussion that Love Gave was born.

So, what is Love Gave? Well, there is no formal mission and purpose statement. I guess you could call it an emphasis, a focus, or perhaps collaboration. My prayer is that it becomes a movement. We decided that over a 40 period (October 11th – November 22nd) that we would make it a priority to serve our city in a visible display of God’s love. During this 40 day period, each church will choose their individual emphasis. Port Royal Baptist will see 40 Days of Community. Collectively we will come together for two main community events in under-served areas; one in Beaufort (October 24th) and one in Port Royal (November 7th).  I believe a fundamental principle in community ministry is to ask agencies and city leaders how the church can help them in order to cut down on duplication and focus resources. We met with the mayor of Beaufort and Port Royal’s town manager to share our vision and seek guidance. Both recognized the need and welcomed the help. There are at least three goals we hope to attain through these events. First, it is our desire to show the cities of Beaufort and Port Royal a visible witness of God’s love through sacrifice and service. Second, it is our desire to show the community how beautiful and how strong the Body of Christ is. Lastly, it is our desire to give at least 1000 volunteer hours to our cities on each of the two city ministry days.  Although the details of each city ministry day are still coming together, we do know a few things for sure. The Beaufort ministry day will consist of park clean-up and painting, renovation work for a needy homeowner, and a carnival/block party in the Greene Street area. The Port Royal ministry day will consist of skate park repair/painting and other work in Veterans Memorial Park.

I would ask that you pray. Pray that our cities will see God’s love lived out in practical ways and that hearts will be softened to the gospel as a result. Pray for the approximately 10-12 churches that will be involved in Love Gave. Pray that their congregations will be strengthened as a result of serving their community. Please pray that this truly would be a movement that would be embraced as we partner with our cities to love the people who make them up. I would also ask that you volunteer. I would pray that you might embrace this opportunity to “be” the church.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #2

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.

Earlier this week I began writing about two types of churches: staying and sending. My intention was/is to the highlight the characteristics of each type of church. I know that using the phrase “versus” may bring to mind a battle or competition resulting in a winner or a loser. My use of the phrase “versus” has more to do with two different mindsets or priorities. Here is a quick recap of the first five characteristics of staying churches.

  1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus.
  2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”.
  3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.”
  4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry.
  5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change.

6. Staying Churches believe the church exists to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the membership exclusively. There are many church members today who believe that the church exists for them and that their comfort and needs are of primary importance. It was the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” If churches want to impact their community, the individual congregations must be willing to adjust what they do and what they think. There is a big difference between saying that we want people to come to our church and actually making room and allowance for them.

7. Staying Churches tend to spend more time talking about what is wrong instead of celebrating what God has accomplished. I’m not sure why it is harder to celebrate what God is doing (even if it is small things) than to focus on what is wrong, on what people are not doing, on failures in the past.

8. In Staying Churches, people perform tasks and duties out of a sense of obligation rather than out of a sense of purpose. Purpose is directly linked to service. If you understand your individual and corporate purpose for existence, you will view opportunities to serve and fulfill that purpose with excitement and enthusiasm. If you don’t understand what your individual and corporate purpose for existence is, then all service is seen as a job, an obligation, or an inconvenience.

9. Staying Churches spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on where the church has been instead of where the church is going. Notice that I said “an unhealthy amount” of time. There is nothing wrong with being proud of what the church has accomplished in years past. This can actually be helpful at times. However, if a church lives in the past, consistently looks back to past practices, pastors, and program, it won’t be long until the conclusion that “the best years are behind us” is made. Staying churches love the past and fiercely hold on to it.

In the next post in this series we will turn our attention to Sending Churches.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #1

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences.

I recently led a conference for our local Baptist association entitled “Community Engagement”. The purpose of this conference was to introduce church leaders to principles and strategies for reaching their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles and strategies that I shared are the same ones that guide our aggressive community ministry at Port Royal Baptist Church. In addition to the fifteen principles, I shared the difference between sending and staying churches. Why mention this? Not every church is ready and willing to reach out and make themselves uncomfortable getting to know and minister to their community. Before any church can get serious about reaching the neighborhoods and communities around them, they must determine if they are willing to pay the price to do so. Over the next few days I will share the nine characteristics of both staying and sending churches. I will begin with the first five of staying churches.

Staying Churches are those churches who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. These churches acknowledge their community but don’t necessarily feel responsible for them.

What does a Staying Church look like?

1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at a person’s friends, calendar, and checkbook and be able to tell where their heart is. The same is true for churches. Churches budget what is important to them. The budget of a staying church reflects a desire, although not spoken, to keep the membership entertained and happy. In staying churches, budgets are heavier in the areas of fellowship and lighter in the areas of missions and evangelism.

2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”. I believe it is fair to say that the one of the largest expenses churches have is facilities upkeep and maintenance. Because of this large monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the church building from anything that might harm or hurt it. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can certainly hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministries. An example here is helpful. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things on the carpet. Children write on the wall. In order to prevent all of this from happening, a staying church makes the decision to not reach families with kids because they might “hurt the building”.

3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.” If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time you have been exposed to all kinds of church programming. I can say that in our Southern Baptist life we have never had a shortage of church programs. Church programming is much live television programming. Cable companies offer shows and programs to satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, hunting, cooking, sports, news, etc.) Church programming is much the same. We utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, young adults, military, senior adults, etc.) Problems occur when churches see the programs as the end and not a means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programming. The real question is not “Do we need to add another program?” The real question should be “Are the programs we are using helping us fulfill our purpose or do we need to do stop and do something different?” A word of caution. Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television show was cancelled? The same feelings are true in the local church.

4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry. This is very common. Throughout the year, most churches take up missions offerings for various causes. Staying churches believe this goes far enough. Why? It’s easy. It’s clean. I had a former church member tell me, “that’s what we pay missionaries for.” It’s one thing to simply throw money at a cause. It’s something altogether different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is one major problem with this practice. The majority of the missions offerings that churches collect are not for their immediate community. Who is reaching them?

5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Not much to stay here. For a church to reach and impact an ever-changing and ever-evolving community, business as usual must go out the window. Staying churches prefer to bask in comfort than to inconvenience themselves for someone else. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty.